Rockbrat Wonders: Who are the world’s worst rock bass players ?

Sid on his way to guitar lessons - photo: Getty Images

Let’s face it folks, not all musicians are created equally. I read with interest some recent comments made on this blog about Manowar’s Joey DeMaio and his bass playing ability. So then I get to thinking, who are the worst I’ve come across ? DeMaio incidentally is not one of them, for as macho and silly as his persona is, he is a competent musician. Whatever, let’s plug the old bass in and go !  First off is Stu Sutcliffe. It is part of Beatle folklore that a young Macca used to switch poor Stu’s amp off during early Hamburg gigs. To be fair to Sutcliffe though, I think he’d told his mate Lennon that his real talent and passion was art, but Johnny wanted is mate in the line-up nonetheless. He was below average at best, and would play with his back to the audience – one Edward Van Halen would also do this some years later, but for vastly different reasons ! Paul Ramon eventually had his way and Stu exited the group whist in Germany. If you’ve not seen the excellent ‘Backbeat’ film based on his life, you should. Next up is Poison’s Bobby Dall. It is a shame Bobby didn’t trade his time in the mid-80’s in front of the mirror, for some decent lessons. But who cares when a lipstick fix and some hairspray could make you wealthy right ? I saw him live in 1989 and he was awful – spending most of the set chain-smoking and doing that annoying cowboy boot-tapping schtick he’d do. Dall was a very limited bassist (that is being kind) and he is very hard to hear on record. Maybe the producer picked up on his lack of ability as well ? I honestly doubt if any American kid pleaded with his Mom or Pop to buy him a bass ‘cos when he grows up he wants to be just like Bobby Dall!’. Ha ha !  Let’s move onto Gene Simmons from Kiss. I’ve mentioned his tedious mid-80’s bass solo’s before on this blog, but blink it was Derek Smalls up there ! Gene is also very limited when it comes to bass playing talent and even my dog could play the bass licks from songs like Firehouse and War Machine. Don’t agree with me ? Name some Kiss tunes which highlight his bass talent and prove me wrong. Sid Vicious is an icon, a legend to some, but one

Has this bass been tuned ? How's my mascara ?

of the most musically retarded bassplayers ever. He had next to no bassplaying ability and even Rocky Shades would blow him away. His predeccessor Glen Matlock hardly ever gets the accolades and still remains virtually unknown to Joe Average, unlike his pimply, sneering, leather jacketed replacement. It was great to see Matlock get some long overdue recognition (or sorts) on the Pistol 1996 re-union. Next up is Nikki Sixx from Motley Crud. Sixx becoming a rock millionaire was by fate only and not talent. Right place right time. Sure he could write songs with hooks and had some good ideas (with an obvious nod to Kiss, Sweet and Mott mind you) but his image far outweighed (!) his talent. Live Wire, Red Hot, Shout…all Crue classics which I love, but with easy-to-play bass chords even a pot plant could play. Watch how Matthew Tri…err Nikki angrily hits his bass in the Live Wire video. Was he frustrated at his own lack of instrumental skill ?! It speaks volumes of how limited he is. So there you have it. Don’t agree ? Send in your responses. Oh and before I send this article through to the editing staff, I must mention a four string funny, which occurs in the Heavy Metal Parking Lot doco. Some dude in a spandex top states ‘I’m a bassplayer, Ian Hill – you’re my inspiration !’ Bizarre !  Priest’s long serving bass player may not be the most technically adept, but was indeed an inpiration to someone – who’da thunk it !  That list again:

  • Stu Sutcliffe
  • Bobby Dall
  • Gene Simmons
  • Sid Vicious
  • Nikki Sixx

8 thoughts on “Rockbrat Wonders: Who are the world’s worst rock bass players ?

  1. I think you need to make a distinction between guys whom everyone knew couldn’t play from the outset (e.g. Vicious, Sutcliffe) and were just part of the scene and those who expect to be taken seriously. So on this basis I would toss out Stu and Sid. Gene, while reviled for his love of business over music, did a decent job for Kiss, at least in the 70s, and managed to play some walking lines while singing which is something that many rock bass players can’t do. So if you are going to go after Gene then its open season on lots of guys who just stand there and shoe gaze or pose out with the duck face and makeup. And why not go after Fieldy with his one trick clack-clack-clackity-clack bass “tone”. How can that even be considered bass playing ? He doesn’t even need to tune up to play his “style”.

  2. I’d have to agree with you that SImmons was an adequate bass player, I’ve never understood why people said he was a crap player. And this is coming from somebody who absolutely despises him as a person more and more with each passing hour!

    1. Fair point Tony and also Glamazon – I was probably too hasty in naming Simmons as a shitty bass player – I probably let my low opinion of him tarnish his musical ability….

  3. Not ever having left the garage, and never having ‘made it’ in music or recorded in an actual studio, I always wondered why so many bass lines in classic metal songs (especially in the 1980’s — Iron Maiden excluded) were little more than ‘thud, thud, thud…’. Was it limited ability, or being instructed by bands / producers to play that way? Or a combination of both?

    1. I think both. In a lot of 80’s metal songs you can’t even hear the bass, at least not hear it clearly. I was revisiting Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” today, and really noticed that the bass is barely there, probably mostly due to production. I think Nikki was deliberately buried so we couldn’t hear how lame his bass playing actually was!

  4. It’s true , Stu Sutcliffe could’nt play proper Bass , but , he was the coolest of the lot. If he’d lived , and become a competent Bassist , and kept the badass pompadour (Ditto for Pete Best , if he had’nt been sacked.), and The Beatles were still wearing black leather and playing raw Rock’n’Roll , exclusively , we would’nt be talking about them , now. Sid , same thing , he was in The Pistols as part of a buddy package with Johnny. A LOT of his Punk Rock peers starting out unable , or barely able to play , but , most of them figured it out within a year or less. Sid could’nt be arsed with it.

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